By: USAC Racing
After a four-year sabbatical from victory lane in USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car competition, Canton, Ill., driver Chris Windom made the Baldwin number 5 great again after picking up Sunday night’s “Eastern Storm” finale at Susquehanna Speedway.
Meanwhile, it was Noblesville, Indiana’s Bryan Clauson who, despite dropping out after only six laps and finishing 21st, had enough of a points cushion between himself, Windom and Ballou to clinch his third career “Eastern Storm” title as soon as he pushed off for the feature event. Clauson joined Levi Jones to become the second driver to add a third “Eastern Storm” title to the resume.
Coming into the night, Robert Ballou and Windom needed all the stars to align and for a little bad luck to befall Clauson in order to come out on top of the “Eastern Storm” standings. Clauson quickly put that notion to rest early in the night, setting a new one-lap track record in ProSource Qualifying to take fast-time honors and the six essential bonus points that come along with it. With the six points earned via his third-place finish in the first heat race, Clauson had essentially sewn up the “Eastern Storm” title, needing only to push off for the feature to secure the crown.
With the title all said and done, pride was on the line for both Ballou and pole-sitter Windom, who took the lead entering turn one on the opening lap.
Coming out of turn four and heading for one on the second go-around, Stockon bolted to the inside of Windom on the bottom of the racetrack as Boespflug stuck his nose in between the two briefly while Windom was able to hold on to the advantage.
Clauson quickly moved to the front from his outside row-three starting position, pulling ahead of Boespflug for third after a two-lap wheel-to-wheel tussle on laps five and six.
As soon as the hint of yet another patented Clauson charge came to fruition, the ride was over. Clauson rolled to a stop on the front straightaway on the seventh lap and exited the race car, ending his night with a 21st-place finish.
On lap 10, third-running Boespflug drifted high in turn one, slapping the wall with his right rear tire, bouncing off and slowly rolling to a stop in the middle of the track. C.J. Leary made slight contact as he maneuvered around the backside of Boespflug, but was able to keep moving along no worse for wear.
Up front, Windom’s ride was undaunted, holding a near half-straightaway lead at the halfway mark, with Stockon and Bacon battling for second behind him in the distance.
Windom utilized the topside for most of the 30-lapper, but began diamonding through turn two as the pair of Stockon and Bacon began to close the gap while the front-runners encountered the tail-end of the field.
On lap 24, the interval between Windom and Stockon/Bacon was minimized to less than a few car lengths as the trio approached backmarker Carmen Perigo, but the savvy Windom was able to sneak by Perigo to gain some much-needed breathing room as the leaders exited turn two.
Windom left the top to give the bottom a try in turn one with three to go as he sought the quickest line around the 4/10-mile dirt surface in the late stages. But, with two to go, Stockon was right on his tail, ready to pounce at any given opportunity.
As the two took the white flag, Windom entered high as Stockon dove low on entry into turn one. Stockon slid even with Windom between turns one and two for a brief moment, but was unable to keep his momentum going as Windom skirted the brim off of turn two, distancing himself from Stockon on the final trip down the Susquehanna back straight.
Windom was unwavered on his way to his first USAC AMSOIL National Sprint Car victory since August of 2015 during the “Sprint Car Smackdown” at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway, defeating Stockon, Bacon, Thomas Meseraull, Ballou, Leary, Max McGhee, Dave Darland, Shane Golobic and Jerry Coons, Jr.
Windom finished off a splendid weekend that also included a victory in Friday night’s “Horn/Schindler Memorial” USAC Silver Crown race at Williams Grove Speedway in Mechanicsburg, Pa. But on this night, the story was the culmination of the reunification between Windom and the Baldwin Brothers Racing team that re-joined forces just one month ago. Windom was able to take the West Lafayette, Indiana-based team’s Fox Paving – AMSOIL/Maxim/Claxton Mopar to their first series victory nearly four years to the day after its most recent: an “Eastern Storm” win at Big Diamond Speedway in Minersville, Pa., with Windom at the controls.
“This is pretty sweet,” Windom proclaimed. “Winning Williams Grove was a feather in my cap, but I couldn’t be happier to get Kenny (Baldwin), Margo (Baldwin) and Derek (Claxton) back in victory lane. They worked their butts off all week. Derek has been wanting one all week because we’ve been right there, but Bryan (Clauson) has obviously been really tough out here. It felt like the top was getting so slow coming off of turn two that I needed to move around. I started diamonding it off. It was tough to figure this place out tonight, but we came out with a win and that’s all that matters.”
On the other hand, Clauson’s race wound up less than stellar after a strong start. He became the first driver to finish outside of the top-ten and record a “DNF” in an “Eastern Storm” race, yet still hold on to win the title, primarily due to his outstanding performances in the first four races of the mini-series, which included three wins and a third-place run. Cole Whitt’s 10th place run at Grandview Speedway in 2009 was the previous lowest finish for an “Eastern Storm” champion during the series.
It’s been a glorious two-week stretch for Clauson. First, leading three laps in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, then winning “Indiana Midget Week” and now adding an “Eastern Storm” title to his mantle, plus tying the legendary Gary Bettenhausen for seventh on the all-time USAC National Sprint Car win list with his 40th series win Saturday at Port Royal and, in the process, winning an astonishing eight non-wing sprint car features in his Dooling-Hayward/B & H Contractors – Cancer Treatment Centers of America/Spike/Stanton Mopar.
“I’m so proud of this whole team,” Clauson exclaimed. “It was a pretty good week if you can fall out of the last race and still win the whole deal. I felt like we were strong again tonight, so I hated to not finish off strong. But we’ll take the championship back home with us and keep digging.”
It’s been a trying week for Fort Branch, Indiana’s Chase Stockon, whose week included mechanical issues and three finishes in the back half of the field in the first four races, but the hard-luck team persevered for a solid second-place run in his 32-TBI Racing/Superior Tank & Trailer – Crescent Electric Supply/DRC/Fisher.
“Chris (Windom) was really good,” Stockon admitted. “We could get close, but once we got into lapped traffic, I felt like we’d have a shot if he made a mistake, but he never did. We’re just happy to bring it home tonight. It’s been a rough week and we’ve had a few problems, but we finally got the car to run all night, so we’re happy.”
Brady Bacon’s third-place finish in his Dynamics, Inc./Mean Green – Lykins Oil/Triple X/Williams Mopar extended his point lead ever so slightly over Thomas Meseraull to 29 markers as the team, and the series, head into the crucial summer stretch that could make or break a championship season.
“We’ve struggled on tracks like this all year, but we finished this week strong,” Bacon said. “We struggled the first few nights, but got back to where we needed to be the last couple of nights. We’ve had some breaks each night, too, but our car has been good enough that we’ve been in a position to capitalize. We’ll take this momentum back to Indiana with us and keep our heads up as we get into the bulk of the schedule.”
Contingency award winners at Susquehanna Speedway included Bryan Clauson (ProSource Fast Qualifier), Thomas Meseraull (Simpson Race Products First Heat Race Winner), Brady Bacon (Competition Suspension, Inc. [CSI] Second Heat Race Winner), Robert Ballou (Benic Enterprises Third Heat Race Winner) Landon Simon (Indy Race Parts Semi Winner), C.J. Leary (KSE Racing Products Hard Charger) and Tom Harris (Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Feature Finisher).